Respect to justice minister James Cartlidge MP for agreeing to participate in a Law Society webinar on the proposed criminal legal aid reforms. Talk about a sticky wicket.

Fortunately for him, the minister did not have to engage directly with practitioners – questions were submitted in advance of the event. But he did have to face a formidable inquisitor, the Society’s head of justice, Richard Miller.

Cartlidge, a former businessman who joined the ministerial team last September, did his best to assure viewers he was on their side against a parsimonious Treasury. If he knew he would be able to get £135m for criminal legal aid reform, ‘I would have proverbially bit someone’s limb off’, he said. 

James Cartlidge

Cartlidge did his best to assure viewers he was on their side against a parsimonious Treasury

Source: UK Parliament

The government maintains that it is accepting the recommendations of the Bellamy review – £135m extra and most fees to rise by 15%. But rather than doing everything at once, which Cartlidge said would take longer, reform would be a two-stage process: increase fees by 15% as soon as practicable, while setting aside cash for longer-term reform of Crown court fees for litigators.

But fees have twice been cut by 8.75%. One has been reversed, why not just reverse the other? ‘You cannot do it suddenly,’ Cartlidge pleaded. ‘You still have to consult, legislate in parliament.’

With only a month to go until the Ministry of Justice’s consultation closes, did the minister do enough to appease practitioners? During the event, a poll was run asking attendees to rate their overall satisfaction. We cannot wait to see the result.